The increased shift to remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity for a greater regional distribution of jobs and to support a better quality of life for many people who previously spent many hours in long commutes.
Remote working has the potential to transform rural Ireland, allowing people to build careers in good quality jobs while continuing to live closer to home, and to generate increased economy in activity in our rural towns.
Building on an initiative by the Western Development Commission in developing a network of remote working and co-working hubs along the western seaboard, a Working Group chaired by the Secretary General of my Department was established last October to oversee the development of a Hub Network on a national scale. The first phase of the Group’s work is to identify, map, survey and classify the various remote working facilities available throughout the country
This work, which is currently under way, will lead to the establishment of an integrated network of remote working facilities with shared back-office services and a common booking engine for hub users. I expect to be in a position to outline the results of this work over the course of the year.
Access to reliable high speed broadband is crucial to the development of remote working facilities. However, I understand that there are already over 450 hubs throughout the country, in both urban and rural locations, who are providing these services. Commercial suppliers have invested in improved broadband provision in recent years, while the National Broadband Plan has begun to be rolled out in State Intervention areas where commercial provision is not considered to be viable.
My Department has invested over €50 million in remote working facilities since 2016 through the Town and Village Renewal Scheme and the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund. Investment has also been made in remote working infrastructure and connectivity through the Broadband Connection Points (BCP) initiative.
A further €5 million has been allocated to the Town and Village Renewal Scheme this year to support the development of remote working infrastructure at hubs and BCPs throughout the country and I hope to be in a positon to announce details of this funding stream shortly.